Over the years, Camp Blue Sky has taken local students to medieval times, the rain forest, Asia and the future. This year, youths will spend a week exploring art adventures from Africa.
The theme for this year’s arts camp, which runs July 28 to Aug. 1 at State Fair Community College, is “Jambo,” which means “hello” in Swahili and is the root for the word jamboree. Camp Blue Sky founder Barbara Cooney and her crew of teachers and counselors are preparing to take students on a wonderful journey.
“The board thought, ‘African art?’” Cooney said. “We love the colors and the textures and the folklore, and that is where we are concentrating our efforts.”
Camp Blue Sky was attended by almost 250 students last year, and when you add in the 50 or so teen counselors who volunteer their time and talent, you have a sea of young minds engaging in multiple outlets for creativity and culture. Participants get to draw, paint, write, perform and more.
“Every day we do dance, creative dramatics, storytelling and writing,” Cooney said. “Not just painting and sculpting.”
The camp always fills up, but there are openings available in most age groups, including Cloud 9, a program for ninth graders that was launched last year. For students in grades 1 through 9, cost for Camp Blue Sky is $120 if registered by June 30 or $130 afterward. Those students attend from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. each day. The kindergarten classes are full, but there is limited availability in the 10:45 am to 12:45 p.m. preschool program; cost is $55 until June 30, going to $60 afterward. To register and for more information, go to campbluesky.com.
Cooney said that for those who need financial assistance, there are sponsorships available. She also encouraged those who sign up to plan on attending all of each session.
“We provide the best materials and have that ready for them, so you don’t want that to go to waste,” she said.
Started in 1998, the camp has become a summertime tradition for many families. Cooney said there are local grandparents who bring their grandchildren from all over the United States to participate each year. And while it might be tempting to expand, Cooney is adamant about not diluting the experience for students.
“We want to keep student-teacher ratios at workable levels,” she said. “We do what we can do in the space we have.”
That goes for the physical space at SFCC, as well. Due to class schedules, that late July-early August window is about all that is open.
“We are very blessed that they allow us to be there,” Cooney said.
While the camp has a great collection of local artists and teachers leading the sessions, artist/educators from Kansas City Young Audiences will be on campus July 31 to offer specialized programming. Milton Gray’s “Africa Alive” centers on African culture and storytelling, while Vanessa and Rodney Gibbs will teach African dance and percussion. Cooney said Gray’s performance stresses “the importance of oral communication in African life and tells the tale of the Ashanti people of west Africa. He looks like he is really vibrant and fun.”
Two years ago, when the theme was “Far Out East,” the camp brought in Valda Hsu, also from KCYA, who shared Chinese brush painting methods and meanings with students. While campers get opportunities to work in many art forms, they also are exposed to different cultures, deepening their education. That’s a great combination.
“That’s our feeling, that feeling of the culture,” Cooney said. “We on the board get excited about that.”
They also get excited about the family atmosphere that surrounds the camp.
“We have students who started with our program who now are teaching or are counseling. Some were almost born in the camp, it is an almost on-going kind of experience,” Cooney said. “It has a very warm, family feeling.
“We try to bring the camp together to celebrate life together using the arts each day.”